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Latest update : 2008-08-23

The 2008 US presidential election campaigns are entering a decisive phase, with candidates' selection for running mates expected soon, and the parties' national conventions only weeks ahead.

See our special report: The race to the White House

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain this week plunge into the decisive phase of their sour White House battle, with the rumor mill heating up over their choice of running mate.

The presidential campaign has raged for 18 months, and sucked up a billion dollars in campaign cash, while promising history and delivering large helpings of political acrimony.

Now, a frenetic two-and-a-half month sprint for the finish looms, with the ultimate prize still within reach for both campaigns, and with both camps still to announce whose name will be emblazoned on the ticket with them.

“We are now entering one of the most intense political periods that we have ever seen,” said McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis.

“We are jamming in a lot of major events, the selection of each candidate’s vice president, their national conventions, the debates and election day all in an almost 10-week period.”

Obama is throwing himself back into the crossfire after a week-long vacation in his native Hawaii.

He and McCain met on Saturday for the first time during this campaign at a mega-church forum in Lake Forest, California, to talk about religion, which plays an increasingly prominent role in US politics.

They briefly greeted each other on stage but spoke separately, disagreed over abortion and spoke of their own moral failings, as each candidate seeks to woo faith-based groups—comprised mostly of right-of-center voters.

Obama expressed his support for legal abortions, but called for efforts to limit unwanted pregnancies, while McCain said human rights begin “from the moment of conception,” vowing to be a “pro-life president.”

Asked to reflect on their shortcomings, Obama said he had been guilty of “fundamental selfishness” at times, mentioning dabbling in drugs as a youth.

“I had a difficult youth,” Obama said. “There were times when I experimented with drugs.”

McCain cited his unsuccessful first marriage.

“My greatest moral failing, and I have been a very imperfect person, is the failure of my first marriage,” McCain said.

Neither of the candidates gave an indication about their potential running mates but one potential pick for McCain, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, ruled himself out of the race on Sunday.

Asked by NBC if he would like to be the Republican’s running mate, the 37-year-old Jindal said: “No. I’ve got the job I want.”

And possible Obama pick, Virginia governor Tim Kaine, said he didn’t think it was likely, while Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a strong Clinton supporter, who is seen as having appeal among white conservative Democrats, coyly told CBS there was nothing to report yet.

Democrats meet in Denver, in the swing state of Colorado, between August 25 and 28, in a convention choreographed to finally salve the wounds of the bitter primary fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s name will be submitted for a “roll-call” vote to formally enter her nearly 18 million primary votes into the record.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has also been touted as a possible Democratic vice-presidential pick, said Sunday he was glad Clinton’s disappointed supporters would get a chance to honor the former first lady.

“The point is the party is united. We’re coming together,” he told CNN’s Late Edition. Clinton “ran a great race. And the Obama team is doing everything we can to bring all her supporters to the fold.”

Republicans will anoint McCain in Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota the following week, leaving the Arizona senator a little longer to wrestle with his choice of running mate.

Then the rivals will clash in presidential debates on September 26 and October 7 and 15, which analysts say could cement the decisions of voters before the November 4 election.

Going into this critical period, the race is remarkably stable, with Obama, 47, vying to become America’s first black president, enjoying a steady yet small lead of a few points over McCain in national polls.

The rivals are also closely matched in battlegrounds like Colorado, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Florida that hold the key to the White House.

The McCain campaign is delighted to be hanging in close to Obama, in what is universally judged to be a bad year for Republicans.

“If anybody had asked us a couple of months ago ... whether or not we would like to be where we are today, which, from what we can tell, is a pretty even race ... we would have been pretty thrilled,” Davis said.

Date created : 2008-08-18